Monday, November 14, 2011

To MFA or not to MFA

You want to be a writer. Should you go to school for it? Can someone be taught to be a good writer?

Rather than answer that question directly, let me tell you a little about my experience. I’m a graduate of an MFA program in creative writing. When I entered the program, I’d just finished a degree in English, and I knew I wanted to be a writer. I thought the MFA program would help me to do that – and three years of submerging myself (to a lesser or greater degree) in a community of writers undoubtedly was beneficial. I thought by the end of those three years, I’d have a publishable-quality manuscript. (I did not. I had a novel-length manuscript, but it stunk. And that was my own fault.)

See, I think what I needed was maturity and life experience, neither of which any school program could provide. And I also needed to learn about what makes writing worth reading.

The MFA program helped me see what worked and didn’t work in writing, and ultimately I believe through the program I became a better writer. But sometimes I wonder, if I instead had just joined and participated in a good writing group, if I wouldn’t have gotten much the same benefit.

Sometimes I wonder, what if I’d majored in something entirely different – like marine biology or physics? Surely the knowledge of a field other than writing might help me write about something; I’d be able to pull information from that field rather than conducting extensive research into something I’m not familiar with. Or what if I'd joined the Peace Corps? Then, in addition to having something to write about and some real life experiences, some good also would have been accomplished. Back to the MFA topic...

Instead of taking out loans to pay for college expenses, as professors encouraged us students to do (enabling us to fully immerse ourselves in writing), I also worked full time during my graduate experience. So perhaps I didn’t allow myself the true MFA experience of abandoning everything and devoting all to the writing craft.

Regardless of my time in the MFA program (and afterward), the desire to write has never left me. It’s always been there. So after graduate school, I continued writing, sometimes haphazardly while also enjoying marriage and different employments, gathering that much-needed maturity and life experience (both of which I still am gathering). And I also read a lot, and learned more about what makes writing worth reading to me. 

Finally, after years and years of writing and reading, and a re-dedication to the craft, my first novel was released.

If you want to be a writer and are considering an MFA program, great. Enjoy it as much as possible. But also remember, the more you write and the more life you experience, the better your writing is going to be.

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